Whenever this gospel or teaching comes up, I continue to maintain that this is the most challenging of all Jesus’ teachings. More challenging than his teachings of the Eucharist, on marriage and divorce. Love of enemies, love towards all. Jesus is right. Its easy, and quite normal, to love those who love us, to love and help those who are close, who are familiar, who respect us. But Jesus never asks us for the natural, for the easy. He always asks for the divine, to follow his ways, a better way. And that includes love towards all.
What is often practiced is conditional love: What have you done for me? What can you do for me? How close are you to me? What do you feel about me, and I about you? Again, a very normal thing, and when two or more people are on the same page, they tend to get along well.
But to love everyone means to love everyone. Love those who can do nothing for you. To love those who hate you and wrong you. This reflects the love of Jesus. Jesus did not demonstrate his love upon the cross for his personal benefit. It certainly wasn’t because he was being shown great love. Yet is was given for all, the good and bad alike. No preexisting condition necessary. We are to show love towards all.
Jesus does not expect us to be pushovers. There is a time of seriousness, such as threats to life and livelihood, to defend ourselves, seek justice, and accept a request for aid. But defending ourselves does not mean that we hate our perpetrators.
Jesus does expect, however, to not succumb to anger, or revenge, or bitterness. There are some wrongs against us that we ought to bear patiently, as to not fall into pettiness and sin. Especially little things that aren’t worth the trouble. And in response, we must love the same. If someone does not show respect and fairness, that is no excuse for you to act the same. Jesus wants us to be better than that. In fact, he says to be perfect. A high expectation, and one we should strive for, despite pretty much always falling short.
As St. Paul says, if someone wrongs you or denounces you, respond with a blessing. That is what sets Christian love above all others.
Christians love is strong, yet very simple, because it lacks conditions. Someone is hungry? Give them food. Someone is thirsty, give them a drink. Someone lacks clothes and good home, help them out. Are they grateful, fantastic. Are they ungrateful, that’s unfortunate. If you put too much focus on how they’ll respond, you’re less likely to practice love. Of course, you want the love to be returned, of course you want your actions to be acknowledged. That’s how good relationships are formed. But if not, and there are many times where its not, Jesus challenges us to love anyways. It was a challenge to hear then, it’s a challenge to hear now. Love anyways.
Yes, there are material and financial limits to what we can do. But the lesson here for us, is that their condition, their thoughts and actions toward us, should not come into play. Love anyways. Show your love, show your gratitude, practice your mercy and forgiveness, practice your charity, love always.